'Variant factories': Unvaccinated people are ‘opportunities for virus'

·5-min read

An infectious disease expert has warned of the dangers unvaccinated people pose as countries rush to protect their citizens while Covid-19 variants run rampant across the globe.

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN this weekend that unvaccinated people are "potential variant factories".

"The more unvaccinated people there are, the more opportunities for the virus to multiply," he said.

"When it does, it mutates, and it could throw off a variant mutation that is even more serious down the road."

Several Covid variants have been recorded around the world. The Delta variant, first identified in India and now seen in over 90 countries, has proven to be more transmissible and dangerous.

The Delta variant is the reason nearly 12 million people in Australia were forced into lockdown last week.

People queue to receive their vaccination at the NSW Vaccine Centre at Homebush Olympic Park in Sydney. Source: AAP
NSW recorded 16 new local cases on Sunday. Source: AAP

'A very dangerous period'

The head of the World Health Organisation says the world is in "a very dangerous period" of the Covid-19 pandemic, noting the more contagious delta variant's rapid expansion.

At a press briefing on Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the variant is continuing to evolve and mutate and is becoming the predominant Covid-19 virus in many countries.

"I have already urged leaders across the world to ensure that by this time next year, 70 per cent of all people in every country are vaccinated," he said, adding that would effectively end the acute phase of the pandemic.

He noted 3 billion doses of vaccine have already been distributed and "it's within the collective power of a few countries to step up and ensure that vaccines are shared".

Of the vaccine doses given globally, fewer than 2 per cent have been in poorer countries.

Tubes of the Covid vaccine.
The World Health Organisation warns we are in a very "dangerous" period of the pandemic. Source: Sipa via AAP

Although rich countries including the UK, the US, France and Canada have pledged to donate 1 billion Covid-19 vaccines, the WHO estimates 11 billion doses are needed to immunise the world.

However, even in countries with high vaccination rates health authorities are fighting back against new variants, some of which reduce the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Seychelles, off the coast of East Africa, has the highest vaccination rate in the world, with 69 per cent of the population having received the shot, the latest press release from the Ministry of Health states.

However, six of the nation's recent Covid-19 deaths were fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Five of those had received a version of AstraZeneca, called Covishield, and the other one had Sinopharm.

All of those who died had underlying health conditions, Bloomberg reported.

“It looks like Delta came in Seychelles in May which explain the surge at the beginning of May,” Jude Gedeon, Seychelles' public health commissioner said. 

“We presume that the majority of cases we got in May was from that variant.”

Race to vaccinate as Delta spreads

Driven by the Delta variant, a new wave of Covid-19 is sweeping across the African continent where new cases, hospital admissions, and deaths are increasing.

“The speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we’ve seen before,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said.

South Africa is leading the new surge in Africa, where case numbers are doubling every three weeks, according to the WHO.

The Delta variant, reported in 16 African countries, has become dominant in South Africa. It was detected in 97 per cent of samples sequenced in Uganda and in 79 per cent of samples sequenced in Congo, the WHO said.

Health workers arrive with a patient at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital's Covid-19 facility in Johannesburg. Source: AP
Driven by the Delta variant, a new wave of Covid-19 is sweeping across the African continent. Source: AP

“The rampant spread of more contagious variants pushes the threat to Africa up to a whole new level,” Moeti said in a statement. 

Less than two per cent of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have received even one dose of a vaccine.

Even in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been criticised for not producing enough vaccines, with just about eight per cent of the population vaccinated so far.

Anthony Albanese has seized on reports of three aged care residents in Sydney being infected with the virus, blaming the Morrison government for its failure in rolling out the vaccine program.

The three were infected by two staff members.

"It was another reminder of this government's incompetence when its comes to the rolling out of the vaccine," the opposition leader told reporters in Canberra.

Large crowd of people, some wearing masks, in a European city.
Countries across Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations. Source: AP

Europe scrambles to outpace Covid spread

Countries across Europe are scrambling to accelerate vaccinations to outpace the spread of Delta and prevent hospital intensive care wards from filling up again.

The risk of infection from Delta is "high to very high" for partially or unvaccinated communities, according to the European Centre for Disease Control, which monitors 30 countries on the continent. 

It estimates that by the end of August, the variant will account for 90 per cent of cases in the European Union.

"It is very important to progress with the vaccine rollout at a very high pace," the ECDC warned.

With Associated Press, Australian Associated Press.

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